Death on the Nile is a clever, witty, well-plotted, beautifully-produced and splendidly acted screen version of Agatha Christie’s mystery. It’s old-fashioned stylized entertainment with a big cast and lush locations. Peter Ustinov is the fourth actor to play Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot.
Anthony Shaffer’s adaptation doesn’t have a hole. When Ustinov reveals the killer in the final drawing room scene it comes as a complete surprise. Every one of the dozen characters floating down the Nile is a suspect. Every one on board could have and might have murdered Lois Chiles, the arrogant millionairess who has stolen her best friend’s fiance.
Shaffer has also created a number of purposely exaggerated characters to complement Ustinov. There’s Angela Lansbury’s tipsy portrayal of a romantic novelist; Bette Davis as a stuffy and overbearing Washington socialite and Maggie Smith as her bitter companion; Jack Warden as an hysterical Swiss physician; I.S. Johar in a marvelously offbeat performance as the manager of the ship on which the murders take place; David Niven as Poirot’s sidekick Colonel Race; and Jon Finch as a Marxist spouting rebel.
But the star is Ustinov and the penetrating mind of his character, Hercule Poirot.
1978: Best Costume Design